Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Thursday, March 17, 2005


Interview with Victor Kudryavtsev, coach of Sergey Volkov, the USSR’s first World figure skating champion, by Elena Vaitcehovskaya printed in Russian language publication Sport- Express on March 14, 2005

In each kind of sport, from time to time appear extremely purposeful and hardworking people who at first sight have no chance to ever achieve a rather large victory. For many years, Sergey Volkov was considered such a person. He made the national team in 1968, at 19-years of age, and went to his first European Championship, where he took 12th place. Even by the standards of those times, the result could not be considered in any way impressive.

Except for his personal coach, Victor Kudryavtsev, this did not excite anybody.

At his second European Championship, he was seventh, and the next year, fifth. But almost no one wrote about him. The country rooted for another sportsman - Sergey Chetveruhin, who became the first Soviet medallist at the Championship of Europe in 1969. Right at the beginning of the 1970s, Chetveruhin already battled for European and World gold with the legendary Czech Ondrej Nepela, while Volkov continued to remain in the shadows. Fans paid attention rather to Sergey’s appearance: even to people far from figure skating it was difficult not to notice him – he was so pale, even his eyebrows and eyelashes were white. Experts marked another feature - his fantastic, almost silent gliding. But who is excited with gliding, if it does not help to gain medals?

On the side of Chetveruhin, there was one more advantage - his coach. The great Stanislav Zhuk. The magic of his name was so great, that it involuntarily extended to everyone who worked under the direction of this well-known maestro. In his limelight was even overshadowed Igor Moskvin, who quite successfully worked with Jury Ovchinnikov. And there was also Elena Chajkovskaja, with her Vladimir Kovalev and her huge, important influence behind the scenes of figure skating.

Volkov was one of the first pupils of Kudryavtsev. In 1957, the young coach had only just begun independent work after his graduation, and he inherited Volkov as though by right of succession - from skilled, but already advanced in years Peter Petrovich Tikhonov who was going to retire. Sergey was only eight years old.

He was practicing at Tikhonov's in a preparatory group, and very much stood out among other children, Kudryavtsev recollected. He was so soft, that sometimes his movements recalled that of a cat, and had by nature phenomenally elastic knees and foot joints. He would make a push and would almost fly on the ice. To develop joints up to such a degree is impossible by any practice.

“I liked to work with him. Sergey's parents had no relations to sports and plainly were not engaged in their son's life, there were too busy. To the skating rink, he was brought by his grandmother. Later I began to notice how she strongly influenced the formation of Sergey's character. He grew very correct and in some sense old-fashioned. Serious, silent. He was respected by everyone who crossed his path. Volkov possessed a high feeling of validity. Any lie instantly put him beside himself.

“Sergey was distinguished with one more quality - tremendous working capacity. In those days it was essentially important: compulsory figures that demanded from the sportsman huge patience, persistence and meticulous mobilization. It was necessary to practice "the school" at least two and a half hours daily. I am sure, that Volkov, with his skills to analyze and come to conclusions, could become a very good coach. Though jumps were extremely hard for him.”

The wife of Kudryavtsev (and at those years - his pupil) Marina told us: “I remember how Volkov practiced the double Axel. He made a push, did a beautiful flight over the ice, very tehnichnically carried out the rotation - and fell down. Because the knee ligaments were too soft, the joints simply could not maintain the load at the landing. Sergey was terribly angry, he remained at the skating rink after practice and tried the jump again and again. To make it less boring for him, I remained on the ice too, and he began to teach me in parallel. So, together, we mastered this jump.”

Even having started to win medals at national championships and having gotten on the National team, Volkov left the impression of an extremely introverted person. His manly power on the ice bewitched, but at the same time his skating turned out too dry and academic. To make a free spirited gesture in any program similarly to Ovchinnikov or Kovalev for Volkov was as impossible as for a member of the Political Bureau - to dance the kazatsky dance before the presidium at the party congress. One of the journalists who wrote in the 70s about figure skating stated that Volkov, because of his isolation and not being a talkative person, never made friends within the national team. It was not so. Sergey simply was friends with those who, as well as he, never especially tried to be in the spotlight. With Alexey Surajkin, Alexander Gorshkov. For the journalists there was more interestingly another character - Kovalev whose uncontrollability became a legend: for disciplinary reasons, this figure skater was twice stripped of his rank of distinguished master of sports, and he had to earn it anew twice.

If it was not for the silver medal that Volkov won at the European championship of 1974 in Zagreb, I am sure that nobody would learn that the figure skater performed there with the broken toe, and did not consider it an exploit at all. It was an effect of his grandmother's influence: a man should be able to suffer pain and has no right to show in public his weakness.

One and a half months later, Volkov won one more silver - in the world championship in Munich. These medals became his reward for all the years of failures. In fact at one time, Volkov was even close leaving figure skating in general. He had a specific goal - to be admitted to the pilot's school in Rostov-on-Don. In this city the figure skaters on a regular basis spent their spring training, and for two years on end, secretly from Kudryavtsev, Sergey applied to the admission committee. He was rejected both times. Again returning the documents to an absolutely healthy guy, the chairman of the medical board categorically told him: "After the first parachute jump you will loose your legs."

At the same time, this period of his life was one of the most serene. Volkov was happily married to figure skater Lyudmila Olehov, they spent most of their time together, as the most of the year was spent at training camps (Mila was skating in pair with her twin brother, Andrey, with whom Sergey was always friendly). The only thing that slightly upset the young woman, were his more and more frequent departures to large competitions and the growing attention to him from the young girl fans - she herself was four years older than Sergey.

But in a year the curve of luck again fell down: in the championship of Europe 1975, Sergey took only fourth place. It was the first championship of the continent in which the gold in men's singles was won by a Soviet sportsman - Kovalev. And he went to Colorado Springs as a favorite for the Worlds.

During his first practice on American ice, Volkov fell down and broke the ligaments of his knee joint.

“We arrived in Colorado 20 days prior to the beginning of the championship as to better acclimatize,” explained Kudryavtsev. “After the fall, Sergey was immediately brought to a clinic (at Colorado Springs there is the world famous center of a sports trauma - E.V.) where much heavier damage was found, than it seemed at the first sight. Sergey stayed in clinic for 14 days. Everyone perfectly understood that he could not perform. Before making the final decision, there were four practice sessions. He did not even try to jump just did figures. And Volkov said that he will perform just that kind of the program."

He skated figures as he never skated in his life. Probably, the trauma forced him to control very carefully his physical condition, not leaving time for thinking of results or to be nervous. His advantage over other contenders was enormous. The high marks also played into the conviction of the judges that the sportsman will be removed from the competition after that part of the program. They did not see it necessity to hold the marks down just in case.

“To tell the truth I did not believe that Volkov could win,“ Kudryavtsev continued. “To be the third, the second - yes. But not the first. In 1974, beside the silver he received a "small" gold - for the best result in compulsory exercises. In any free program he differed from contenders in his techniques of gliding, in the speed, in skating at the blade's edge, in fine rotating and in well done steps. But the second (artistic) mark was always lower. Nature did not make him an actor. Plus he was falling too often - because of his legs. And the same Kovalev, with a rather mediocre technique, always managed to land the most improbable jumps. A considerable role was played also by the attitude of public. Ovchinnikov, for example, never was the champion of the World or Europe, but his authority and popularity in the country (and so with the judges) were higher than that of Volkov.”

Volkov categorically refused to be removed from the competition after the compulsory figures.

He executed the free program ideally, as well. He landed all three triple jumps (then standard set man's single skating), and it was impossible to catch on to him.

Someone stated then, that Volkov won at Colorado Springs only because the others fell. On one hand, it was the truth. On the other, the distance between Sergey and his contenders before the final performance was such that even if Kovalev or Karri received for execution of their programs the mark of 5,9, all of of them would still remain behind.

Volkov began his 1976 season with Stanislav Zhuk. Parting with Kudryavtsev passed easily, although nobody could understand the reason for the transition. According to the coach, Volkov who already reached the age of 26, admitted that there remained not so much time for active performances – a couple of years, two or three -- and it would be desirable to try a new direction. However, people close to Kudryavtsev insisted that the decision to change coaches belonged not at all to Sergey, but to his wife, Mila. Volkov was simply too tired to resist and submitted to the pressure.

Zhuk accepted the sportsman at once. At that moment in his group there was a relative vacuum: after the Olympic games of 1972, Chetveruhin left figure skating, and the duet well-known to the whole world - Irina Rodnina - Alexey Ulanov broke up. Zuk created a new pair, having replaced Ulanov with Alexander Zajtsev, but these figure skaters, having won straight off the championship of Europe in Cologne and the world championship in Bratislava, went away to Tatyana Tarasova.

Ulanov, with new partner Lyudmila Smirnova, appeared at Kudryavtsev's. It was simple to assume such turn of events. Ulanov decided to separate from Rodnina even before Olympic Games in Sapporo and did not hide it. He used each opportunity to pull out from Moscow and for a day or two go to Smirnova in Petersburg. After the break with Rodnina, Ulanov and Smirnova got married and began to skate together.

It was said that Zhuk was much angered by what happened, and that Ulanov did not leave sports for good. When Volkov came to him, his coaches of the past and present sometimes collided at a competition, Zuk, addressing Kudryavtsev, said a strange phrase: "I have taken Volkov with one purpose. That you on your own skin feel how painful and unpleasant it is when a sportsman leaves you."

This transition became for Sergey the beginning of the end of his career. In 1976, he was fifth in the championship of the Europe and Olympic Games. He did not go to the world championship, and in a year the figure skater was absolutely dismissed. In 1978, he finished his sport’s career.

He was sent off at Luzniki , at the then-popular international tournament Nouvelle de Moscu. When Volkov took the microphone to thank the fans, he was not able say a word and dissolved into tears.

He worked for some time with the junior national team, being engaged basically in the analysis of performances of sportsmen and in the preparation of various recommendations for coaches, but soon decided that the practical work to him was much more interesting, and created his own group. There were at once two "stars" which soon began to shine on the junior level - Sasha Abt and Tanja Rachkova.

In the middle of the 1980s, Volkov began to complain of his health. Doctors assumed a stomach ulcer, and they named also the most probable reason - nerves. For a long time it was known that an ulcer first of all falls upon those who experiences shocks and failures inside of themselves, not allowing emotions to be expressed outside.

And stress sufficed. Home life was not very good. Volkov had his own views about life at home, and they did not always coincide with reality. His son, with whom they looked like two peas in a pod, grew up, but even he could not keep Sergey in his marriage wows. He created a new family in which there were new children - twins Katya and Nastja. But, t was necessary to earn money, and in February of 1990, having transferred his students to other coaches, Volkov accepted an offer to leave for Austria. Before flying away, he once again passed a course of treatment. Although he knew already the terrible diagnosis, he refused the operation that doctors recommended, motivating by his trust in folk medicine, and hid the truth from the figure skaters.

The last aggravation of his illness happened abroad. In June of 1990, Volkov was brought from Austria to Moscow, but to operate was already senseless: the cancer had spread too far...

“Sergey was in such a condition that he could not to communicate with anybody,” said Kudryavtsev. In August, by special plane of the Red Cross, he was sent to Kharkov to an expert in the field of unconventional medicine. There was some improvement, but it appeared too short-lived. He died near Kharkov on August, 31st.

Kudryatsev said, “According to Oksana, the second wife of Sergey, before death he had time to tell her that if the girls would be engaged in figure skating, they should be coached by me. As if he was sorry for leaving me in 1975... “

Translated by G. Sivorinovsky
Web Translation in Real Time

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